What is a Personality Disorder?
The term “Personality Disorder” refers to a diagnostic category of psychiatric disorders illustrated by an unremitting, inflexible and maladaptive pattern of relating to the world. The most obvious sign of these disorders is the negative or adverse affects they have on interpersonal relationships. This inflexible pattern is indicated in the way a person thinks, feels and behaves.
Research and studies on the amount of people who have personality disorders suggest that approximately 10% of adults can be diagnosed with a personality disorder. In addition to creating unhappiness in the person with a personality disorder, any relationship a person with an untreated personality disorder has with others is burdened with struggle and difficulties.
Since personality disorders are a variant form of a normal healthy personality, personality disorders cannot be understood independently from healthy personalities.
Distorted Thinking Patterns
People with personality disorders display distortions with the way they perceive and interpret the world and the way they perceive themselves. Examples of these distorted thinking patterns include:
Patterns that often include unusual or abnormal beliefs and perceptions that are different from cultural standards.
Examples of odd beliefs some people have with personality disorders include unusual religious beliefs, superstitions and worldviews that are exceptionally out of alignment with a person’s religion, environment and culture. Everyone who has superstitions or religious beliefs does not have a personality disorder. The beliefs have to be clearly different and extreme from the individual’s cultural standard and expectations.
Extreme Black-or-White Thinking Patterns
Sometimes known as all-or-nothing thinking, black-or-white thinking involves thoughts that become polarized as either-or. For example, a person is either all bad or all good. With this type of distorted thinking pattern, there is no room for gray areas and no room for compromise.
Patterns of Mistrustful or Guarded Thoughts
Another pattern of distorted thinking is a higher than normal level of suspicion. This is displayed in several ways like believing that most other people are dishonest. Other people’s motivations and actions are almost always believed to be suspect. A person with this pattern of thinking will interpret true thoughtfulness in a pessimistic way. This type of thinking can cause distress to the individual and bring stress to any relationship.
Patterns of Idealizing then Diminishing other People or Themselves
Vacillating between idealizing and diminishing other people or themselves falls under the “black-or-white” distorted thinking pattern. Even though most healthy people recognize that we have some good and some bad in all of us, this type of distorted thinking leads people to think that if you are not completely good, then you are completely bad. With this ever-changing pattern of extreme perception, people are viewed as either all good or all bad.
Idealizing a person in a new relationship is common for healthy thinking people especially in the beginning of a romantic relationship. Eventually, healthy people will come to see their new partner or friend in a balanced “shades of grey” light. However, if someone is prone to this extreme thinking pattern, the moment the other person does something out of sync with the “all good” belief, they see the person as “all bad.”
This type of thinking creates a great deal of pain and difficulty for both parties. The target of this distorted thinking pattern is understandably baffled and has a problem understanding why they are suddenly being viewed as a bad person.
Perceptual distortion is included as a type of perceptual distortion. This type of distorted thinking is predominantly common in people with Schizotypal Personality Disorder. Some examples of perceptual distortions include having the feeling that someone is calling your name, but when you turn around, no one is there. Another example is seeing another person’s face morph into a different face right in front of you. Then within seconds you realize the face is still the same.
The people who experience these distortions are usually able to distinguish these experiences from reality. They realize these distortions do not represent an actual event. This is somewhat different from visual or auditory hallucinations that are impossible to tell apart from reality by the person who experiences them.
Causes of Personality Disorders
There are several factors involved with the development of personality disorders. Two of the more common factors include abuse and genetics especially when it comes to obsessive-compulsive and narcissistic personality disorders. Other factors include parenting, peer influencing, and childhood trauma.
Researchers are beginning to identify some possible genetic factors leading to personality disorders including a malfunctioning gene and genetic links to fear, aggression and anxiety. These qualities can play a role in personality disorders.
When it comes to childhood trauma, one study found a link between the number and type of childhood traumas and the development of personality disorders. For example, people with borderline personality disorder had especially high rates of childhood sexual trauma.
Extensive research has demonstrated that children who had experienced verbal abuse like screaming or being told that they were not loved were three times as likely as other children to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive or paranoid personality disorders in adulthood.
Highly sensitive children, meaning children who have sensitivity to light, noise, texture and other stimuli are more likely to develop shy, timid or anxious personalities. More research is needed as to the role of high sensitivity or high reactivity plays in personality disorders but there does seem to be a relationship.